First Scientific Meeting on Polo on the Theme of "Iranology and the Iranian Origin of Polo"

The First Scientific Meeting on Polo, on the theme of "Iranology and the Iranian Origin of Polo" was held on 27 January 2014 in Muhtasham Hall of the Iranology Foundation. As reported by the Public Relations Department of the Iranology Foundation in this meeting, which was held jointly by the Polo Federation and the Iranology Foundation, Dr. ‘Abdul Majid Mirdamadi, the Research Deputy of the Iranology Foundation and the Scientific Secretary of the meeting, announced that the reason for the absence of the President of the Iranology Foundation, Professor Ayatullah Seyyed Mohammed Khamenei, was his convalescence from an illness. However, he read Professor Khamenei’s message to the meeting attendees, as follows:

  • The Iranology Foundation follows the studies and research on polo with interest and considers this game to be one of the manifestations of Iranian culture. These studies were initiated in the Iranology Foundation as a part of its cultural mission and duty. We hope that, through introducing a cultural feature of our country they can also introduce Iran and some of its glorious cultural manifestations, firstly, to the people of our own country and then to the whole world. There are, of course, many projects similar to the one on polo which we are interested in undertaking.

Doctor Mirdamadi continued his speech by saying that, as we read in the Constitution of the Foundation and as it appears from its goals and duties, this Foundation is a scientific research institute. Moreover, we understand that by Iranology we are referring to the realm of all the activities, studies, and research projects related to all discussions and problems concerning the various manifestations of Iranian culture and civilization in the broadest sense of the word. Obviously, the Iranology Foundation will spare no effort in learning about the different manifestations of Iranian culture, history, and civilization and Islam, and in familiarizing national and international audiences with them.

Accordingly, as a cultural feature of our country, polo holds a special place in the field of Iranology. From an Iranological view, polo is not just a simple sport played by some polo player on horsebacks using a ball and a long-handled mallet in a grass field. Rather, it is the manifestation of 3000 years of Iranian history, a cultural legacy and a mark of Iranian national identity. This is a legacy which, based on all historical documents, epigraphs, carvings, paintings, and drawing is interwoven with the name of Iran and Iranians. The Scientific Secretary of the meeting also stated:

  • That is why we can speak confidently and forcefully of the Iranian origin of not only polo, but also of wrestling, ancient pahlevani and zoorkhaneh rituals, and many other tangible and intangible or, perhaps, lost legacies. The reason for this is that there is a philosophy or wisdom behind each of their components or features. Therefore, it is our responsibility to have a more scientific understanding of the semantics of Iranian history and civilization in the light of research and study. This is because all of them are manifestations of a transcendent culture and heritage, and one of the duties of the Research Department of the Iranology Foundation is to discover and introduce them.

In view of the above, Dr. Mirdamadi maintained that the most important problem here is the separation of the scientific realm of research on the epistemological and cultural features of this legacy from the polo field, the Zoorkhaneh (the House of Strength) pit, and the wrestling mat. He also reminded us that the Iranology Foundation is prepared for any kind of cooperation regarding research on the history of this legacy and the literature developed around it at the national and international levels. Therefore, it invites all researchers who are interested in this field to support the related activities in order to protect this Iranian and Islamic legacy.

The next speaker, Dr. Azartash Azarnoush, a prominent researcher in the field of the history of polo, delivered a speech on the etymology, origin, mythology, and history of polo in Iran. He mentioned that he had gathered the results of his studies on this sport over the years in a book entitled History of Polo and, then, talked about the sources of information and documents about this game in the world. He declared, "Based on my 15 years of research, I can claim that there is no culture in the world that precedes the Iranian culture regarding the history of polo. This game is also played in China and Japan, and they have several works of sculpture and photography portraying polo. However, they started playing it in the 6th century AD, while it has existed in Iran since ancient times. It was also played during the Achaemenid and Sassanid eras and then came to us as a legacy of our ancestors".

Later, another researcher in the field of polo, Dr. Muhammad Hossein Riyahi, spoke about the place of the Naqsh-e Jahan Square (Esfahan) in the history of polo and the relationship between the nature and identity of this national-cultural game and the art and architecture of this square since ancient times until now. By emphasizing that the Naqsh-e Jahan Square is a clear proof of the history of polo, Dr. Riyahi continued that this Square had hosted the greatest number of the most important polo competitions in the past and is considered a symbol of spiritual and worldly values. No square in the world has ever been used as a polo field as frequently as Naqsh-e Jahan. In the rest of his speech, while requesting the authorities of the Cultural Heritage Organization to protect a legacy that represents the value and history of Iranian culture, he stated, "Naqsh-e Jahan Square is a part of Iranian heritage, which is unfortunately full of commercial billboards today. Therefore, there is an urgent need to do something about this problem."

The next speaker was Dr. Fathullah Haddad, President of the Cultural Committee and the High Council of the Polo Federation. The title of his speech was "The Place and Significance of Cultural Elements in Identity Creation". He argued that protecting and reviving cultural elements are inevitably necessary for producing a sense of belonging in the community and appreciating the heritage of our ancestors. Therefore, if any expenses are paid to introduce, revive, and expand identity-creating elements, they will not be in vain. Rather, this investment is extremely necessary to guard the identity, culture, and civilization of the country. He continued his speech by noting that we have many identity-creating elements, and we are so much used to them that we cannot see them and, thus, we ignore them. He introduced the game of polo as one of these elements.

This speaker pointed out that the cultural elements in the world of today are known as tangible and intangible legacies. He emphasized that the most important and purest of all identity-creating elements is the intangible or spiritual cultural legacy. This type of heritage includes symbols, capabilities, and different types of knowledge, wisdom, skills, traditions, arts, games, and rituals which are rooted in our traditional culture. These spiritual concepts are much more valuable than gold and jewelry and are transferred from one generation to another as their national identity. Therefore, it is not surprising that the world pays great attention to cultural and spiritual heritage.

The President of the Cultural Committee of Polo Federation continued as follows: "We should ask ourselves why the world pays so much attention to this part of culture. Why should they try so much to protect an identity-creating element? Polo is not just a sport; it is, rather, a ritual, and if kings supported this game, it was not because of its royal nature, but because of its magnificence, engineering design, and complex details.

After Dr. Haddad, Hamzah Ilkhanizadeh, President of the Polo Federation and one of the pioneer players of this game delivered a speech on the revival of polo during recent times (since 50 years ago) and his knowledge and memories of this game. Based on some historical documents, he maintained that polo has been the favorite sport of many different individuals and classes in society in various historical periods. He added that several poets, painters, and craftsmen have supported this Iranian art in their works, which is why it has remained alive even after some years during which it had been forgotten for certain reasons.

According to Ilkhanizadeh, one of the most important advantages of polo is that it does not discriminate between male and female players. The reason for this is the military nature of this sport. In the past, women had to learn to play polo like men. This feature has now spread all over the world. Hence, we should train our children in a way that they appreciate Iranian arts and rituals. Fortunately, this custom is still alive among those who play polo or are among its fans.

The president of Polo Federation explained about the polo-related activities which were performed after the imposed Iran-Iraq war as follows: "After the war, many polo players were scattered throughout different regions of Iran. However, a soil field was immediately chosen in Nowruzabad for this field, and polo players prepared this game with their own money and began playing there. Finally, in 1996, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution confirmed the legitimacy of this sport. Previously, polo was the target of severe attacks in Iran; nevertheless, after his confirmation, polo players could continue playing this sport freely".

Dr. Ilkhanizadeh also mentioned that the Advisor to the Supreme Leader of Iran, General Muhammadifar, who was also present in the meeting, is a veteran polo player. After the Imposed War, he and his friends in the land forces of the army made a polo field and began playing this game professionally in the army. Then the speaker continued by saying:

  • One of our very important priorities is to build a polo field in Isfahan as the historical source of this sport. Presently, there are seven polo fields in the country, but none of them have been built by responsible organizations such as the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports or the Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organization. In fact, these fields have been built merely by the lovers of this sport with their own personal funding. The Polo Federation is the poorest federation in Iran; it has no budget, and we believe that this situation will improve under the supervision of "the Government of prudence and hope". We also hope that the authorities pay more attention to solving the problems of polo players. This is also one of the most important wishes of the Supreme Leader of Iran in relation to Iranian sports.

Dr. Ilkhanizadeh continued by pointing out that the support of the private sector for this sport is not enough. He said:

  • We expect the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to provide us with more support. A polo field must be established in a city such as Isfahan, which is the historical origin of polo in Iran. During his visit of Isfahan, the President of the World Federation of Polo stated that, if a polo field is built in this city, they would choose it as the host for the next World Polo competitions. Unfortunately, nothing has been done in this regard so far.

Referring to the recent maneuvering by the Republic of Azerbaijan concerning the international inscription of the game of Polo in its own name, the President of Polo Federation added:

  • The Polo Federation worked day and night for two and half months in order to collect and present some documents indicating the Iranian origin of the polo game to UNESCO. We succeeded in neutralizing the plot of the Republic of Azerbaijan. However, it is possible for another country to claim that this game originated there anytime. Therefore, we should take the necessary action in this regard as soon as possible and inscribe polo jointly in the name of Iran and those of the neighboring countries which have a right to it.

In another part of this meeting, there was a question and answer session with presence of Dr. Haddad, Dr. Azarnoush, Dr. Riyahi, Mr. Ilkhanizadeh, and Dr. Mirdamadi, who answered the questions raised. Here, in response to a question concerning the role of Iran in transferring polo to China, Dr. Azarnoush said as follows: "There is no proof as to the transfer of Iranian polo to China. Of course, the most important historical document relating to Chinese poetry, sculpture, and polo goes back to 600 AD. However, we know that Ardeshir played polo in 273 AD and, thus, this game was played in Iran 400 years before that in China".

In this session, one of the participants made a suggestion as to establishing a polo museum and Mr. Ilkhanizadeh explained, "This is the decision of the Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organization." We have some works and documents in relation to this sport, which we will safeguard and transfer to future generations safely.

In another part of the meeting, the Declaration of the First Scientific Meeting on Polo was read and approved by all the attendees. At the end of the meeting, some of the researchers and people working in the field of art were honored by the authorities. Accordingly, they showed their appreciation of the invaluable scientific and artistic activities of Dr. Azartash Azarnoush (researcher), Dr. Mohammad Hossein Riyahi (researcher), Dr. Fathullah Haddad (President of the Cultural Committee of Polo Federation), Mr. Hossein Zamani (Director of the Sport Group of the Third Channel of IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) Dr. Sirus M‘adandar (Director of the Sport Group of the News Net of IRIB, and Mr. Mehdi Khalaji (Director of the Program Supply of the Documentaries Channel) by giving each of them a letter of appreciation and a copy of the book A Description of Iran and its Regions in some of the Maps of the Islamic Period.

The Declaration of the first Scientific Meeting of "Iranology and the Iranian Origin of Polo", which was approved by all the attendees of the meeting, reads as follows:

  • Based on the historical records and documents available to Iranian and non-Iranian researchers, the national game of polo is the most ancient team game in the world. Since polo bears a meaningful and beautiful relationship with Iranians’ art, life, jobs, culture and literature, it is our duty to value and appreciate this precious heritage of our ancestors and, by keeping this national game and tradition alive, try to spread it all over the world more than ever before. Now that the first Meeting of Iranology and Iranian origins of polo has brought us together and provided us with the opportunity to learn more about this national and cultural ritual, we have decided to invite researchers, members of the media, artists, art educators, authorities in cultural and sporting fields, and everyone who loves Iranian culture and civilization to be more sensitive to the identity and origin of the traditional and national game of polo and present this invaluable legacy as a gift to future generations. Therefore, we have some recommendations and requests as follows:
  • 1. We propose the establishment of a permanent Secretariat for managing follow-up activities and creating a bilateral relationship between the Polo Federation and the people of culture, art, and media. We believe that, in order to keep cultural and identity-creating elements such as the game of polo alive, it is of prime importance not only to introduce it to all social classes and groups in society but also to familiarize members of the media with this part of our national culture more than ever before. Then they can present some attractive and pleasant works using their own different methods and capabilities in order to disseminate and spread this game.
  • 2. We expect the Ministry of Education to guide researchers and university students to conduct studies and write theses and dissertations on topics related to the national game of polo and provide them with all the facilities that might contribute to the optimal execution of these tasks.
  • 3. We request that the members of the mass media consider that they have a role in improving polo. Their cooperation and innovations regarding introducing this national game and exploring the related opportunities will be of great value.
  • 4. The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting is expected to include some themes in relation to polo in its cultural, social, artistic, literary, and dramatic programs so that the public becomes familiar with this game.
  • 5. We request that the Ministry of Education include some artistic, athletic, historical, cultural, and literary concepts and subjects related to polo in textbooks at different grades at schools.
  • 6. We request that municipal offices use symbols related to the national game of polo in different places of the city.
  • 7. The Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organization is expected to seize the present opportunity for the joint inscription of this national game in the name of Iran and some of the neighboring countries which have a right to it, as promised. Obviously, different cultural organizations, such as the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Polo Federation are ready to provide any help that might accelerate this process.
  • 8. Lovers of the Culture and art of the land of Iran, like powerful guards of the borders of cultural fields, more than ever before need the assistance of cultural organizations and institutes to protect the invaluable treasures of this country. Therefore, all the authorities in related fields are requested to consider a special place for these volunteer guardians of culture and civilization.
  • 9. The significant role of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in revitalizing this game is obvious to all. Hence, this Ministry is, firstly, expected to compensate for the neglect of this sport and the damage inflicted upon it in the past. Then, it should consider polo as the only national and genuinely Iranian sport of the country and pay more attention to popularizing it. This can be done by allocating to polo and some other national and traditional sports only a small part of the budgets currently devoted to imported sports. We expect "the Government of prudence and hope" to establish some new polo fields in at least two provinces in the country each year during its four-year period in office.
  • 10. We request that the Government allocate a minimum budget and some financial credit to the cultural-sport of polo Section in order to introduce this sport in the best manner possible, to conduct a series of related scientific-artistic research activities, and to hold some specific conferences on this game.

It is worth noting that in this meeting, in addition to showing the clip of the speech of the Supreme Leader of Iran in which he had emphasized the importance of polo and the necessity of paying great attention to this game, a documentary film of the history of polo was shown to the guests. Moreover, at the same time as this meeting, an exhibition of paintings, drawings, pictures, and historical documents related to polo was held in the Iranology Foundation.

The Meeting of "Iranology and the Iranian Origin of Polo" was held in the presence of a great number of lovers of Iranian art, sport, and culture, statesmen and military figures, polo players, university professors and students, pioneers in the fields of art and literature, directors of IRIB, reporters, photographers, and members of the media. Some of the special guests of this meeting were: Amir Muhammadifar, Military Counselor of the Commander-in-Chief; Amir Shokouhi, President of the Polo Board of Military Forces; Dr. Mazaheri, Senior Advisor of the Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance; Fallah, President of the Army Polo Board; Delavari, Secretary of the Polo Board of Military Forces; Molladoost, Secretary of the Army Polo Board; Haqshenas, Director General of the Physical Education Organization of Qazvin Province; Rezvanfar, Research Deputy of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organization; Ansari, Deputy of the Director General of the Programming and Supervision Department of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports; and Sajjadi, Director of Niavaran Art Foundation.